Wow — all over my Twitter feed and my Facebook timeline people are shrieking that the sky is falling because the EPA withdrew two proposed rule changes. The first one, which I’m kind-of “meh” about, would have made Bisphenol A and phthalates “chemicals of concern.” I avoid BPA by buying water bottles that are clearly marked “BPA Free” and the second one by using glass or ceramic to store and re-heat leftovers, and aluminum foil (that I recycle) instead of plastic wrap.
But the second one, I’m sorta pissed off about, even though nothing changes and the status quo remains the operative paradigm. (It’s important to remember that. We didn’t lose a right we used to have; instead we failed to gain a right we’ve never had.)
A second rule that EPA withdrew would have forced companies to disclose to the public the chemicals used in products and the health and safety studies the companies have conducted on those chemicals — much of which companies have been allowed to protect as “confidential business information.” That rule had been at OMB since 2011.
Richard Denison, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, noted that the EPA had withdrawn the two rules in a blog post on Friday afternoon. In an email statement to The Huffington Post, an EPA spokesman said that the rules were being withdrawn because “they are no longer necessary.”
I am a scientist by training, so keep that background in mind when I say I can accept that answer for the first one, but I call bullshit on the second one, because manufacturers of consumer chemicals have more rights in the trauma bay than the people trying to save the life of a person who has been exposed to a toxin. Healthcare workers have been known to fall ill after treating patients who have been exposed to chemical spills, only to have the manufacturers refuse to reveal all of the ingredients in a compound they were exposed to because the information is ‘proprietary.’
It is not unheard of for employees at a chemical plant to suffer exposure to toxins during a spill or release of gases, then once in the trauma bay, the emergency room personnel start suffering from the same symptoms because the patient is toxic, only to be told that the chemical company won’t tell them what they are dealing with, because it’s a trade secret and they don’t care if the entire hospital gets sick and dies, they aren’t telling you because it could affect their bottom line.
No, I didn’t make that up. That’s really how it is in the good ole US of A.
If the average American knew just how unregulated the chemical industry is in this country, there would be an epidemic of adult-onset thumb-sucking as people crawled under their beds with an organic cotton blankie and refused to come out.
If I told you about a nation that, in an effort to cater to business interests, sacrifices common sense and consumer safety on the alter of the free market in the process of “regulating” an industry that can potentially kill their customers, you would think it insane. But that is precisely the way our country regulates the chemical industry: exactly backwards.
Since the passage of the benign-sounding Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, banning and/or restricting chemicals is extremely difficult. That law, the nations chemical policy, grandfathered in about 62,000 chemicals and compounds that were in commercial use at that time. Chemicals developed after the law went into effect did not have to undergo safety testing. Instead of oversight, chemical companies were entrusted with the task of self regulating. They were asked – but not mandated – to report toxicity information to the government, and the government would decide if further testing would be necessary.
In the 37 years since Gerald Ford signed the bill into law, the EPA has required additional studies for a mere 200 chemical compounds that are components of consumer products – a tiny fraction of the 80,000 chemicals in use in this country – and the government has had little or no information on most of those chemicals. Manufacturers are ‘required’ to report to the feds any new chemical they intend to market – but the TSCA of 1976 exempts from public disclosure any information that could harm their bottom line.
The act is so pro-business and anti consumer that only five chemicals have been banned since the TSCA became law.
The barriers to regulating the chemical industry are so high that the EPA has been unable to ban asbestos, even though we know that asbestos is a carcinogen, and has been banned in more than 30 countries. Instead of regulating, the EPA is hogtied, forced to rely on the chemical industry to voluntarily stop producing and using suspect chemicals. [I will wait here while you re-read that paragraph…and continue to wait while you go get your blood pressure medicine after the gravity of it sinks in…]
If you have been operating under the assumption that the chemicals you buy to unclog your drain, scrub your tub, clean your counters, etc have been tested for safety, you are woefully mistaken.
In this country, regulation happens after the fact, and as they made their way to the exits the Bushies made it just a little worse, tilting the playing field even further in the favor of business and against the rest of the country, scrambling to put in place rules to further hinder the efforts of the EPA to regulate chemical substances. The rules the Bushies crammed through, of course, had the unqualified support from business groups, who argued that assessing risk of chemical substances should be done by analysis of “industry to industry evidence” of the effects of chemical exposure to employees during their working lives. The net effect was to make regulation of chemicals even more difficult, and put stumbling blocks in the path of worker protections.
As if the chemical industry was struggling under the yoke of burdensome regulation as it is.
Give. Me. A. Break.